Thursday, November 03, 2005

A few disconnected thoughts

When I was a wee college student, I spent a year or two as part of a
rogue IVCF small group. Okay, I'm being dramatic. I hope you don't
mind. As these groups are wont to do, we studied a few books of the
Bible, mainly a few Pauline letters, Luke, and Acts. I'd read parts of
the Bible before, but other than Revelation (which was interesting
because it was so strange) and Tobit (which was interesting because it
was so short), I'd never read any book in Scripture all the way

It was quite the experience. Some of Paul's themes or the narratives
featuring Jesus took on broader meaning, even more depth, when the
pieces that were slowly doled out at mass were presented together. I
was fortunate to have been invited into a group teeming with mature
college students who were already quite familiar with all the material.
I'm not sure what motivation the group leader had for bringing me into
the mix, outside of friendship and an interest I once expressed in
studying the Bible more, but I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Almost as interesting was the fact that I as a Catholic was in the
minority. I don't think even mainline Protestants were in the
majority. Most of my colleagues appeared to be Evangelical to some
degree, and claimed to be some flavor of nondenominational. I'm not
sure what it has to do with anything, but if I did, I wouldn't be
writing about it right now.

(I think I need to work on making my introductions more concise.)

Oh, occasionally the Rapture would come up, but other than contributing
what little I knew about it at the time, I didn't have much to say. If
someone wanted to make allusions to the prophetic books in explaining
the Gospel, good for them, I figured, and since I couldn't say anything
more constructive than "I disagree," I didn't say anything.

Sometimes things would come up, though, that I wouldn't be able to
trace back to any particular strand of theology or history; things that
would linger in the back of my mind for a long time. We never read
James, but the parable of the sheep and the goats did come up, so works
and faith did sort of come up as a corollary. We generally agreed that
we can't work off the price for heaven by our own efforts, and that
someone who truly had a living and healthy faith would also be overtly
practicing it. I say "generally" because a few people still seemed to
be uncomfortable with acknowledging a creeping works-based theology.
Given the legacy of the faith-works debate, I can understand caution,
but I couldn't understand where one of my friends was coming from when
I asked him to explain his apparent distaste of the obligation to do
good in the world, and he barely stopped short of equating salvation by
faith as a pure and simple intellectual affirmation of Jesus' saving
grace, as simply an act of will. He even asserted that our will is
only free to choose or reject Christ. The rest of our behavior,
everything we do and say from day to day, is dictated by God, or by our
fallen nature. Simply put, we're either God puppets or sin puppets,
and we can do nothing but decide which it will be.

Concerns about Pascal and destiny aside, where does this kind of
minimalization come from? It's not even a philosophical reductionism;
it's nearly as distasteful as predestination. If everything but the
choice of Christ is out of our hands, why are we weekly (or more)
admonished to be Christlike, to do His will, in addition? If it were
all determined by outside factors, then what's the point? Certainly,
God moves in mysterious ways, but He is not wasteful. Why would God
appoint people to recruit for Him, but not allow these people's
presence in the world make a difference? Why not just appoint everyone
to simply praise and worship Him? At least that kind of arrangement
would be a good thing.

Remind me to talk about something more upbeat in the future.

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